Is NASA hiding life on Mars? I seriously doubt it.

By Phil Plait | October 27, 2010 11:28 am

mars_microscope_300Is NASA covering up evidence of life on Mars? That’s what University of Cardiff astrobiologist Chandra Wickramasinghe claims as quoted in an article on the Helium website (warning: site has autoloading video ads).

First, I want to note that this article doesn’t appear to have much new about it; Wickramasinghe made these claims as far back as 2008, and there’s no link in the article to where he may have talked about it more recently. Still, given the nature of these claims (and the knowledge that this will probably spread around the ‘net rapidly), it’s worth talking about.

I’ll be up front about this: I have serious problems with lots of claims made by Wickramasinghe. He thinks that life on Earth began in space and was seeded here, a process called panspermia. That’s an interesting idea, and has been around a long time. The problem is, he sees it everywhere. In 2003 he claimed that SARS was extraterrestrial. He says a "red rain" in India in 2001 was due to alien bacteria (it is far more likely it was due to very Earthly spores). He claims that flu outbreaks — yes, influenza — come from space. So he’s had a long history of making grand claims on ambiguous evidence*.

I think this is where we are with Wickramasinghe’s claims that NASA is covering up life on Mars. Still, he is an actual University scientist, so if he makes claims, they’re worth looking into. But in my opinion they don’t hold up to scrutiny:

marsphoenix1) In 1977, the Mars Viking lander performed some analyses to look for Martian life. The results were ambiguous, unfortunately. Many NASA scientists claimed the results show no life on Mars, which is on what Wickramasinghe is basing his claims of coverup.

In my opinion, no conclusion can be made either way. New results from the Phoenix lander are very interesting, indicating that there might be organics on Mars… but that doesn’t mean life, it just means there might be carbon-based molecules on Mars. That’s a long, long way from biological activity.

2) Wickramasinghe points to detection of methane and liquid water on Mars:

"The discovery of liquid water on Mars combined with earlier discoveries of organic substances in a meteorite that came from Mars, and also of methane in the Martian atmosphere all point to the existence of life—contemporary life—on the Red Planet…"

The atmospheric methane observations are really interesting, but there is still no clear source for them. It’s still not possible to completely rule out geological sources. Life is a possible source, but not the only one.

Also, there has been no discovery of liquid water on Mars. There have been lots of very interesting and provocative observations, but no real proof of extant liquid water — see here, or here, or here for example. I’ll note that these observations may point to transient liquid water — water that exists for a very brief amount of time — as opposed to a reservoir of it.

So Wickramasinghe is drawing conclusions that are not supported by the evidence. Water, methane, the Viking and Phoenix results: these might point toward life, but they might not. We don’t know yet.

But even if these observations do in fact indicate the presence of life, does that mean NASA is covering it up?

I very seriously doubt it. Wickramasinghe’s claims of hanky panky make no sense. If NASA is covering up data, they’re doing a really bad job of it. Guess who found that Martian methane? Surprise: NASA. And it was NASA probes that see evidence for water. Again, why announce it if they’re trying to cover it up?

And if NASA is trying to cover up the Viking results, then why release the Phoenix results which back up those of Viking? In fact, why launch Phoenix at all? Like most conspiracy theorists, Wickramasinghe pays way too much attention to details, and overlooks huge logical inconsistencies.

And then there’s the basis for the claims of hiding evidence. Why would NASA cover up all this? Wickramasinghe’s reasoning: politics.

"I think there could be political and sociological considerations at work." He explains that "…if life was already detected, then there is no need to spend vast sums of money to continue the search."

Not to be too subtle here, but that’s pretty silly. He has it exactly backwards: if NASA found good, solid evidence of life on Mars the budget would skyrocket! Imagine one of the rovers, say, found actual biological activity in a patch of ground on Mars. The media would go nuts, and the public would want more information. We’ve seen how the ‘net goes crazy every time a story comes out about possible life on Mars — heck, I’ve had massive traffic to this very blog when I’ve written about it.

Moreover, lots of people (including, critically, Congresscritters) complain about the money spent to go to Mars. That’s the opposite of what Wickramasinghe is claiming. If NASA found real evidence of life on Mars, they’d be shouting about it from the rooftops (after peer-review, of course). Instead of sending one Phoenix lander that might find ambiguous evidence of water and biology, they could send ten. Twenty. And they’d be better equipped. I know a few NASA scientists; they’d give their right arms to be able to send a fleet of big, expensive labs to Mars instead of lobbing smaller probes one at a time. They could then answer these questions once and for all, and still guarantee a line of funding for a long, long time.

So to claim that NASA is covering up evidence of Martian life so that it can keep tapping Congress for money is absurd. They’d get a lot more money and attention if they made the evidence public!

To recap: Wickramasinghe is basing his claims of Martian life on scanty, ambiguous evidence, and then claims "conspiracy theory" when asked why NASA would cover this up, and the evidence for that is not only non-existent, it actually points to Wickramasinghe being wrong.

In my opinion, we need a lot more evidence for life on Mars. What we have is fascinating and tantalizing, but it’s a long way from solid proof. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence… which is true both for finding life on other planets, as well as claims that NASA is covering up said evidence.

Credits: Microscope picture from euthman’s Flickr stream; Mars and Phoenix pictures from NASA.



*Yes, I’m aware that these are ad hominem arguments, but that is not necessarily a logical fallacy. If someone believes in a hundred provably-wrong things, why believe them when they make their 101st claim? Context matters, especially — as I point out in this post — the new claims are on as shaky ground as the others.

Comments (93)

  1. It’s a bummer when a bona fide researcher goes South like that.
    It undermines us all.

    I guess we can say Wickramasinghe’s having a meteoric rise in his career.
    (Fully acknowledging that meteors don’t rise, they fall, as is W’s credibility.)

  2. “I think there could be political and sociological considerations at work.” He explains that “…if life was already detected, then there is no need to spend vast sums of money to continue the search.”

    This kind of backwards reasoning seems to turn up a lot. GM knows how to build cars that will run for a thousand years on a thimble of gasoline, but they won’t release the information because they wouldn’t make any money. Pfizer knows how to permanently cure all diseases, but they won’t do it because they won’t make any money.

    Perhaps in the extreme long term that’s correct. Maybe. Kinda. Vaguely. But for the next 100 years, they’d all have absolute monopolies on their entire industry. Every other company would wilt before their godly power, and each would be able to purchase/build their own gigantic island corporate fortresses from which to rule forever.

  3. University of Cardiff? I imagine they see lots of weird stuff there, what with the giant wormhole right under their feet.

  4. Sometimes people are so engrossed in the details they are oblivious to their environment. I agree wholeheartedly that NASA has every motivation to find life on Mars and none to cover it up.

    I always wonder if its possible that life is under the surface. In caves or even just in the ground itself. We have plenty of life here on Earth that never sees the surface of the Earth. I wish we could send lots of different types of labs.

  5. rob

    all that atmospheric methane on mars: gotta be thoat farts.

  6. @Jacob
    I agree. And since humans are such incurable fools, we would certainly continue to buy new cars because the newest model was more fashionable. Once any disease was cured another would fill the void of research and I find it hard to believe that we will ever run out of diseases or problems that need research.

  7. Miko

    You put the asterisk in the wrong spot. The most serious ad hominem in your post was this one: “Still, he is an actual University scientist, so if he makes claims, they’re worth looking into”

  8. uudale

    Methane! Proof of life on Mars! Martian Cows!

    http://www.mulletman.org/cowsonmars.html

  9. Yeah, imagine you’re the Omnipotent Dictator of NASA. I’m pretty sure this is a Constitutionally-approved office. Anyway, your goal is to maximize the funding for NASA do you:

    a.) Proceed through careful scientific methodology.

    b.) Amass the greatest scientific discovery of the century, and then hush it up so you can keep looking for it.

    or

    c.) Make vague claims about the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe to drum up excitement about your projects, and then have a stooge in Wales really make claims that call further attention to your work.

    If I were conspiracy minded, I’d say that Wikramsinghe himself is party of a NASA conspiracy. Maybe if the people who usually spread this stuff around do their job, I could write a book on the subject and stop studying.

  10. Alan in Upstate NY

    The funding comment is an excellent one. Any discovery like life on Mars would be an excellent lightning rod for funding. Scientists are simply not going to pass up or hide discoveries that would result in more funding for research!

    Clear skies, Alan

  11. damian

    “Still, he is an actual University scientist, so if he makes claims, they’re worth looking into.”

    That sounds an awful lot like an argument from authority.

    Whether one is a professional scientist, and whether one is employed by a university, really shouldn’t be the determining factors on whether one’s claims are worth looking into. They may color an investigator’s conclusions about said claims (i.e. “it sounds fishy and apparently nobody thought this guy was worth giving a research job to so I’m not the only one who thinks he sounds fishy”), but really, the initial decision on whether to look into something should be based on the plausibility and merit of the claims, not the CV of the claimant.

    Similarly, obviously bogus claims when made by actual university scientists don’t magically become less bogus.

    Right?

  12. mike burkhart

    May be he been watching to munch Battlestar Glactia(70 version ) “There are those who beleve that life hear begain out there ” Yea they landed on Earth got off the spacecraft became stupid and went back to a primitve life makeing stone tools and forgeting all about the advanced tec that brought them to Earth . In the words of Mr Spock ” that is highly illogical ” . Or maybe hes been brainwashed by Hogsland who thinks NASA is covering up about Cydonia. Phil look out he wnats you to be a ture belever

  13. Chris

    @damian
    I think his argument is if you are a University scientist means some of the person’s peers believe him to be a productive intelligent colleague. Otherwise he would have been fired or not got tenure. An employed scientist should have a little more credibility than a blogger saying the world will end in 2012.

  14. damian

    @Chris

    I understand the sentiment, but I disagree that tenure should be the first or even second or third criteria for evaluating the merit of an idea. It figures in there somewhere, but not as the rationale for posting an article, as was used here.

    A better premise for this article than “he’s a real scientist so I have to take him seriously” would be “he’s a real scientist so I better address this before the credulous media give his oddball pet theory attention it does not deserve.” That would be a completely legit rationale, and I suspect it played a role though it went unmentioned.

  15. Bunny Deville

    I am a study session leader for Astronomy (my university uses students who got the highest grade in a class to run study sessions for the next group to take that class) and today the professor (Dr. Fix) asked the students if they thought the government was covering up the proof of life on Mars. 22 of them did, but not one could give a good answer beyond “we just don’t trust the government”. I think maybe I will bring this up in my next session.

  16. Gary

    It’s just so sad when scientists go senile.

  17. Yeah, because there’s nothing NASA likes better than covering up something that could increase its funding five-fold…

  18. I guess I’m somewhat of a cynic. I tend to believe that such outrageous statements generally are made with some hidden yet far more practical motivation. For example, perhaps he is planning on publishing a book soon and believes that a well-known kook will be able to sell more copies than little-known professor.

  19. Why is it that humans are so afraid to admit “I don’t know.”?

  20. Georg

    That Chandra Wickramasinghe
    missed the really big picture! Nasa did not cover up life
    on Mars, they conveyed all evidence to Venus, dumped
    it there and produced a big cloud around Venus to hide all.
    Georg

  21. Michael Swanson

    Do you know why NASA has to cover up that there’s life there? Because of course there’s microscopic life in the sand on the sets they’re using to fake the Mars probe landings! No one can be allowed to find out that NASA has “discovered” mouse droppings and spiders in the “Martian” soil!

  22. Pablo Della Paolera
  23. DTSLW

    Wickramasinghe is just projecting, see he’s a space alien so he’s gonna accuse everyone and everything else of being from space to throw us off.

  24. Dave

    Exactly! Why cover it up? If NASA had proof of life anywhere, they would suddenly find they had funding for new missions. Even if they did cover it up, why continue when their funding gets slashed, the JIMO mission canned? That would be the time to come out.

  25. T

    I wish that you would some day comment on the claims by Gilbert Levin about his discovery of life on Mars. He presents a number of arguments to support his claims and contradict other interpretations. An analysis of his reasoning would be interesting reading.

  26. Jess Tauber

    Phil’s Blog is part of the conspiracy- having a place to rant about all this stuff saps the life out of righteous indignation that would otherwise have people marching in the streets and demanding answers. Mind- and social-control via talk therapy. The worst part of all this is that this was part of the peace settlement imposed upon us by the Martian overlords through their human spokeszombie Orson Welles, who still controls everything from New Jersey.

    Continue the struggle! DON’T GIVE UP! Let your neighbors know you WILL sell wine before its time! ROSWELL, YES! ROSEBUD, NO!

  27. JoeSmithCA

    Wow if life just fell from space all the time… (runs outside and waits for a pizza to fall out from the sky)

  28. pat bunny

    It’s not NASA’s job to hide life on Mars.
    The life is hiding very well on its own thankyouverymuch.

  29. JohnDoe

    There’s one rather unlikely chance that proof of life on mars might lead to a quarantine and therefore a stop of all lander missions to Mars. While I have no doubt that even then, in the long run both the number of missions and their budget would see a massive increase, that would still be a setback for anyone who can’t think past the next quarter.

  30. Sausages

    I remember back in the early 80’s he gave a talk to the RAS in London about bugs from space. After slapping up a number of spectra showing absorption lines from meteorites indicative of organic materials he was attacked with accusations of nepotism (son-in-law had made observations) and spectra from non-organic materials producing similar spectral lines. While many of his assertions are still debatable, I think the point is that he, and Fred Hoyle whom he worked with, have been proven more right than wrong in the intervening years.

  31. Chief

    Two things.

    I’ve heard that the two mars landers of the 70’s have a conflict in the experiments designed to detect the mechanisms of life and have given a positive and negative depending on the process used to detect. Since then, researchers have come up with several theories in why this is possible including the experiments being to earth centric in the use of chemicals to detect mars organisms and may have killed anything off in trying to detect it.

    The other item is the new Mars Rover, I wonder if they have included a change in the experiments towards the firming up of the data from the landers of the 70’s

    Be interesting to see what was behind the proof positive reason.

  32. Pete Jackson

    The following article at space.com gives a pretty good synopsis of NASA and life on Mars. NASA has to be very careful about the detailed wording
    in any on its websites and press releases!

    http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/mars-life-reports-untrue-100429.html

  33. Jamey

    @Jacob:

    “This kind of backwards reasoning seems to turn up a lot. GM knows how to build cars that will run for a thousand years on a thimble of gasoline, but they won’t release the information because they wouldn’t make any money. Pfizer knows how to permanently cure all diseases, but they won’t do it because they won’t make any money.”

    Well, it’s not GM that’s claimed won’t release the information – it’s OPEC and other oil interests – and they’re right, if it became possible for a car to run for a significant length of time on a small amount (or even a fairly large amount) of water, OPEC would be bust. Sure, there’s plenty of other uses for oil – plastics are probably the primary use of oil at this point, I think – but I think vehicle fuels are a big enough part of the pie to cause critical problems for the oil interests. Likewise with Pfizer – if they did know how to cure all diseases, release of the information would result in one *BIG* sale, and then a continuing pittance of a stream of revenue.

    Look at the push on compact flourescent bulbs – supposed to be so wonderful. Except that the way the ballasts work, there’s a lot of energy used that doesn’t get registered by the meters. They use mercury, a rather dangerous heavy metal. And the claims of lifetimes of 8-10x that of an incandescent bulb? Pretty much every person I know of with them in their home hasn’t found the rate of replacement that much lower – and they are quite a bit more expensive. If GE came out with a bulb that cost 10x, and ran for 100+ years – they’d find their revenue stream dropping critically, once the initial surge was over.

    The problem with these is not that they’re implausible – it’s that they depend on a conspiracy of way too many people keeping quiet. But don’t argue that it’s because they’d make more money if this or that invention came out – that’s rather stupid. Inventions obsolete specific industries all the time. You won’t find too many hand engravers out there any more – computerized engravers do it faster, cheaper, and for anything less than a Master Engraver, with much better quality.

  34. Dys

    Have you heard any of the proposals for a one way live shot to mars, or its moons?
    Sending a handful of astronauts with no return capability, to set up a base and do… science? would apparently be a lot cheaper than trying to send a safe and two way vehicle.
    What are your thoughts on that?
    Would you go? :P

  35. IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE

    Larian LeQuella (#19):

    Why is it that humans are so afraid to admit “I don’t know.”?

    Like, er… I don’t know, man! ;-)

  36. Michael Suttkus, II

    Wasn’t Wickramasinghe the guy who testified that bees might be superintelligent, but hiding it from us in the Arkansas creationism trial?

  37. Aleksandar

    Completely avoiding the main issue here, just a though.

    Considering how discovering life on Mars (or maybe a intelligent ET signal from space) would be a Huge Thing, and that potential for error leading to ridicule and eternal shame, I wouldn’t be surprised that for either of above two, you could see years pass between discovery and the happy happy joy joy press conference.

  38. Chief

    Re 38. Aleksandar

    Hmm. another potential Pons and Fleishmann if announced too soon.

  39. Daniel J. Andrews

    Of course they’re hiding life on Mars. Here’s the evidence.

    NASA is just one player in a global conspiracy to promote global warming.
    NASA is the only player in a local conspiracy to hide life on Mars.

    Since they are successful in the global conspiracy, then a small conspiracy is a cinch to pull off.

    Conclusion: NASA is hiding life on Mars. They faked the moon landings too.
    ;)

  40. Brian Too

    I remember the Viking results, and the great excitement at first. Then later there was a disappointment crash, as doubt about the validity of the results was raised.

    Why would NASA allow the experiment, ensure that it flew, announce the results, and all the followup? All to enable a coverup? When NASA keeps posing the question??

    A really successful coverup consists of preempting the question. Make sure the subject never comes up, or is dismissed instantly as impossible/implausible/impractical.

    That’s why I can never get anywhere convincing people that our political leaders are aliens. Our alien overlords have been entirely successful in covering up their alien origins! :-)

  41. TheBlackCat

    Well, it’s not GM that’s claimed won’t release the information – it’s OPEC and other oil interests – and they’re right, if it became possible for a car to run for a significant length of time on a small amount (or even a fairly large amount) of water, OPEC would be bust.

    Since when was OPEC designing cars?

    Likewise with Pfizer – if they did know how to cure all diseases, release of the information would result in one *BIG* sale, and then a continuing pittance of a stream of revenue.

    This assumes:
    1. The cure is a one-time treatment that proactively cures every disease the person will ever get in his or her lifetime, including infectious diseases he or she has not been exposed to.
    2. People aren’t being born

    If it only cures a disease once the person has actually acquired it (or developed it for cancer and such), then they would still be able to sell the same treatment to the same person over and over and over again. So there wouldn’t be one big sale. Further, people would live to be old and their body breaks down, which means they could sell them all sorts of treatments to prop up their failing organs.

    And the claims of lifetimes of 8-10x that of an incandescent bulb? Pretty much every person I know of with them in their home hasn’t found the rate of replacement that much lower – and they are quite a bit more expensive.

    I’ve had compact flourescent bulbs in my ceiling light for five years and haven’t touched them. I easily run them for at least 6 hours a day, every day except weekend where I run them three time that long. In fact they were here when I moved in, who knows how long they were running before that. I’ve replaced the one in my bathroom once, but that was with a brighter model not because it burnt out. The ordinary fluorescent bulb in my kitchen has burnt out twice in the same time period. In the same time period my parents have gone through 5 or 6 incandescent ceiling bulbs in every light in their kitchen (assuming they haven’t restocked their light bulb drawer, which they might have), and they run their lights far less than I do.

  42. Dave

    There might not even be methane on Mars:
    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2010DPS….42.3017Z

  43. Gary Ansorge

    I have to say, Chandra Wickramasinghe gets a lot of air time for his ideas. Does he also write books?

    Scientists are human, with all the personal failings that implies. Some have really big egos and invest all their self image in being unassailably right. Which is why we have the Method, to provide feedback, ensure transparency of data and external confirmation(or disproof).

    I don’t know why he makes such illogical, unsubstantiated claims. Maybe he just enjoys the notoriety.

    Gary 7

  44. Astrofiend

    Off the bongs Wickramasinghe! You’re sullying the Chandra name!

    This guy definitely has a book coming out or something. Either that, or he has had a fairly average research career and this is his fast-track to fame.

  45. Messier Tidy Upper

    @26. Jess Tauber Says:

    Phil’s Blog is part of the conspiracy- having a place to rant about all this stuff saps the life out of righteous indignation that would otherwise have people marching in the streets and demanding answers. Mind- and social-control via talk therapy. The worst part of all this is that this was part of the peace settlement imposed upon us by the Martian overlords through their human spokeszombie Orson Welles, who still controls everything from New Jersey.

    Look deeper and you’ll find this conspiracy is even more sinister and goes even further back to H.G. Wells in his secret lair in England! ;-)

  46. Messier Tidy Upper

    @35. Dys Says:

    Have you heard any of the proposals for a one way live shot to mars, or its moons? Sending a handful of astronauts with no return capability, to set up a base and do… science? would apparently be a lot cheaper than trying to send a safe and two way vehicle.
    What are your thoughts on that? Would you go?

    Yes I would. :-)

    English (formerly Aussie resident) physicist & author Paul Davies had a good short article on that idea of sending folks on a one-way trip to set up a Mars colony in the Feb / March 2010 issue of Cosmos magazine.

  47. amphiox

    Further, people would live to be old and their body breaks down, which means they could sell them all sorts of treatments to prop up their failing organs.

    Add to this treatments for the longterm side effects of the cure-for-all-diseases. Because there are always, always side effects.

    Then they can move on to enhancement of normal physiology, and in all likelihood in pretty short order the old “normal” will become redefined as “diseased”.

    And trauma we will always have with us.

    As for the car the runs on a thimble of gasoline? They’ll most likely keep the big gas tank, and just add extra features powered by the extra gasoline – the entertainment center in the back seat (every passenger gets his own, independent system), the coffee maker in the dashboard, the wide-screen LCD displays embedded into the body that will let you change the appearance of your vehicle at will on the fly (like cephalopod skin), or display your facebook page on your passenger side door. And of course they’ll make the engine more powerful with that extra gas and give the customer a super-SUV (so roomy and powerful you can take your house – yes literally your whole house – with you on vacation!)

  48. hevach

    @ 34. Jamey: If all that energy the CFL bulbs are using isn’t being registered by the meter, it isn’t coming from the grid. There’s only one kind of electricity coming into your house. The meter can’t tell where it ends up – if your burning it all at full amperage with a dead short three inches past the meter or trying to recreate Chevy Chase’s Christmas light show, it all meters the same way. The inspectors investigating the cause of the fire might be able to tell the difference, but the meter can’t.

  49. zebo

    For gods sake; send a damned microscope to Mars; and send back pictures of the bacterial life. We landed on Mars in 76. It should not take over 30 years to detect a bacteria.

  50. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    . . . claims “conspiracy theory” when asked why NASA would cover this up, and the evidence for that is not only non-existent, it actually points to Wickramasinghe being wrong.

    I confused am.

    How can non-existent evidence point to CW being wrong?

  51. Nigel Depledge

    Sausages (31) said:

    I remember back in the early 80’s he gave a talk to the RAS in London about bugs from space. After slapping up a number of spectra showing absorption lines from meteorites indicative of organic materials he was attacked with accusations of nepotism (son-in-law had made observations) and spectra from non-organic materials producing similar spectral lines. While many of his assertions are still debatable, I think the point is that he, and Fred Hoyle whom he worked with, have been proven more right than wrong in the intervening years.

    Be careful with this.

    While there is plenty of evidence that some kinds of bacteria perhaps could survive travel on or in a meteoroid, there’s no evidence that this actually happens.

    Panspermia is sort-of plausible, but still very, very speculative.

  52. Jeff

    WHY IN THE HEY WOULD NASA HIDE EVIDENCE OF LIFE????

    IF LIFE WAS OUT THERE, THEY’D BE FIRST IN LINE TO BROADCAST IT, MORE FUNDING.

  53. seti

    @47 Messier Tidy Upper
    but come on… don`t you know that H.G. Wells was a woman??? It was unveiled in some episodes from “Warehouse 13″.
    We all should pay much more attention to what series like this bring to light, or to what… (what`s his name? … scrolling, more scrolling) Wickramasinghe has to say.
    And i really hope our future bug-lords will come from Mars to save us. Even if in red rain or not.

    Great article by the way! Also great comments – made the shady autumn from here a bit more lighter.

  54. Autoloading video ads? What autoloading video ads?

    Firefox/NoScript/FlashBlock/AdBlockPlus, FTW!

  55. This loon says that SARS came from outer space? And influenza? Pardon me while I laugh until I piss myself.

    Hell, if you ask me, based on the actual number of cases compared to the amount of media hype, I’m inclined to believe that SARS itself was a fake… but that’s neither here nor there.

  56. gia

    I, personally, think that if NASA (or some other government agency) discovered alien life, that would be hidden from the public for as long as possible. Life outside Earth would cause a HUGE identity and religious crisis here, I have no doubt about that, and any government in its right mind would be afraid of that and the possible consequences.

  57. Ginger Yellow

    “I think there could be political and sociological considerations at work.” He explains that “…if life was already detected, then there is no need to spend vast sums of money to continue the search.”

    The funniest thing about this insane bit of reasoning is that it comes from an astrobiologist who has repeatedly claimed to have found (evidence for) extraterrestrial life. If it had any logical force, it would apply to him even more than NASA.

  58. DAK

    NASA is very conservative and they won’t admit there is life on Mars until they have positive proof. Yes, there are signs of life but that doesn’t mean there is life there now. There are signs of liquid water but they haven’t found that either. Finding life on Mars would be such a triumph for NASA, they would be fools to keep it hidden. Bacteria or plants are no threat to us or anyones religious beliefs.

  59. DAK

    @34. Jamey

    If a CFL is receiving power through your power meter, all of it is registered by the meter. If it is using power not registered by the meter, where is the rest coming from? Unless you have a battery or some other source providing power, it is coming from the power grid and being registered by the meter.

  60. I think everyone here is ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in the room….

  61. I honestly wonder where a university professor gets this bass ackwards way of thinking. If NASA had undeniable evidence of life on Mars they would be singing from the rooftops about it in order to get more funding. Better question: who is funding this crackpot?

  62. I am on the science teams for two NASA Mars missions at the moment, and I can tell you straight up that if any scientist found conclusive evidence of life on Mars, the public would hear about it. Most scientists are all about getting credit for their work, and when it comes to Mars especially, everyone is trying to make a big splash (no pun intended) by tying their research results to water or life. Plus, if we DID find life on Mars, it would probably lead to a big increase in the budget for the Mars program.

  63. Chris Winter

    Gia wrote: “I, personally, think that if NASA (or some other government agency) discovered alien life, that would be hidden from the public for as long as possible. Life outside Earth would cause a HUGE identity and religious crisis here, I have no doubt about that, and any government in its right mind would be afraid of that and the possible consequences.”

    Perhaps the NASA of Charlie Bolden would, for a time. But I still doubt it.

    I remember the excitement that blossomed on discovery of the meteorite ALH 84001, when it was believed that certain formations could be fossils of “nanobacteria.” Of course, that NASA was under Dan Goldin, who was eager to find evidence of ET microbial life.

    I still believe that any solid evidence would be announced.

  64. LittleJim

    #30 JohnDoe;
    “While I have no doubt that even then, in the long run both the number of missions and their budget would see a massive increase, that would still be a setback for anyone who can’t think past the next quarter.”

    Not a problem for most of the guys working in this field. 20 years is no biggie. Ask the guys working on the New Horizons probe to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

  65. The Beer

    #19 – Larian LeQuella “Why is it that humans are so afraid to admit “I don’t know.”?

    LOL… SSsoooooo very true on so many levels! (Except for me…because I’m always right)

    Just because a conspiracy sounds nuts, doesn’t mean it can’t be true. But I think Phil’s point about the funding is most especially true. If they found life on Mars, we’d either be sending a village to move in or we’d have probes shot to any solid surface in the solar system!

    The other problem (as Phil mentions) is the fact that NASA confirms information about “Potential Life”. Lets face it, to conspire to avoid something, then dance around that ‘verboten’ subject would take a very sophisticated (and confident) conspiracy! And usually the more complicated plans get, the more likely they fall apart.

  66. Former Apollo astronaut, Dr. Brian O’Leary said, “There is plenty of scientific evidence of contact with aliens, but NASA has suppressed it.” O’Leary also added, “There have been a lot of mistruths and misinformation.” Maurice Chatelain, designer of communication systems during Apollo, said:”Astronauts saw things that could not be discussed with anyone outside of NASA.” NASA may or may not have discovered life on Mars, but how could NASA be trusted to tell the truth about anything after decades of lies about life elsewhere reported by their own astronauts and scientists? Once an agency begans to spin a web of deceit, it cannot be defended to speak the truth about other subjects. As ever, NASA and its supporters are trying to hide evidence of life, which, as the Brookings Institute concluded, would undermine our social and religious beliefs. As for NASA getting additional funding for propagating “life on Mars,” what a crock. NASA spends dollars like a drunken sailor: internal accounting in 2007 found $5 billion in increases since 2003! NASA is a corrupt, out of control agency, and its defenders are disinformation specialists.

  67. TomF

    I had some Jehovah’s Witnesses doorstep me the other day. I replied that no thanks – I was a scientist and an atheist. They got a look on their faces – they knew what to do with scientists – switching to plan B. They brought out a booklet of choice phrases. One was from Wernher von Braun – I forget what the quote was, but of course he was a rocket scientist, not a biologist. Next!

    Then they quoted Fred Hoyle about the unlikelihood of life arising spontaneously. I asked them if they actually knew who Hoyle was, what he had done (hint – the universe is slightly older than 6000 years) – yeah, not so much, they just read from their Special Book Of Quotes For Scientists. Then I asked them what they thought Hoyle’s answer to this problem of unlikelihood was (because it wasn’t in the quote – they just left it hanging). Yes, that’s right – he thought Little Green Men built archaea and sprayed our planet with them from UFO. This perturbed them a bit, because of course people who believe in aliens are clearly nuts. But you know what – goofy as it is, I think his option is many orders of magnitude more sensible than saying “God did it”. I thought that Hoyle would find very few points of agreement with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and maybe if they were going to selectively quote-mine eminent scientists, they should bloody well go and read a few Wikipedia articles first. That finally drove them off – and good riddance to you, sirs!

    Panspermia is a pretty unlikely idea, but at least in theory it’s grounded in science – it makes predictions and suggests experiments. Unfortunately it’s bosom-buddies with ID and shares many of the “god of the gaps” characteristics. The only real difference is whether you call your creator Yahweh or ET.

  68. ND

    Paul,

    “There is plenty of scientific evidence of contact with aliens, but NASA has suppressed it.”

    Let’s see it!

    ”Astronauts saw things that could not be discussed with anyone outside of NASA.”

    Wow, such an open ended accusation that could cover any sorts of things. And what are some of these things?

  69. ND–Huh? Have you any awareness what’s been going of for 60 years (and some say thousands of years)? There is testimony of astronauts, military base commanders, police officials, and credible members of the public who have had countless run-in with alien life forms and UFO’s. If it was a court room, the defendant (NASA) is guilty. Your question asking to see the evidence NASA has suppressed is farcical: YES, we’d love to see the stories and videos that have been suppressed just as former NASA employees attest! I listen to people within the agency who put their lives on the line (i.e., astronauts) to bring this information to the public–a public who funds an agency who conceals the truth from its funders. As for Mars, astronomers, exobioligists, and planetary experts (Gil Levin, Chandra Wickramasinghe, etc) say Viking 1 and 2 proved the existence of microbes in the Martian soil, but NASA, as Wickramasinghe stated, “chose to ignore the evidence of life.” Case closed.

  70. ND–For at least the last 60 years, and some say longer, there has been testimony of astronauts, military base commanders, police officials, and credible members of the public who have had countless run-in with alien life forms and UFO’s. If it was a court room, the claimant would win the day. Your question asking to see the evidence NASA has suppressed is a Catch 22: YES, we’d love to see the evidence that has been suppressed just as former NASA employees attest! I listen to people within the agency who put their lives on the line (i.e., astronauts) to bring such information to the public–a public who funds an agency who conceals the truth from its funders. As for Mars, is it any wonder that an agency that has lied in the past could now be lying about life on Mars? The general public is unaware of the disaster that it NASA. It is an agency rife with corruption and getting little oversight of its out-of-control spending of taxpayer funds.

  71. #61 DAK said “If a CFL is receiving power through your power meter, all of it is registered by the meter. If it is using power not registered by the meter, where is the rest coming from?”

    Electricity meters only register the power where the voltage and current are in exactly the same phase. If you have a reactive (that is non resistive load) the current lags or leads the voltage. If the lag or lead is phi degrees the meter only records V*I*cos(phi) which is always less then the V*I which the generator has to produce.

    That is why inductive loads such as motors have capacitors in parallel to bring the phase angle back to zero. Google “power factor”

  72. Chris Winter

    Paul avers that NASA is suppressing the news of extensive contact with extraterrestrials by astronauts and others. Dr. Brian O’Leary was an astronaut 1967-68, hence inside NASA. He’s had an eclectic career and now apparently lives in Ecuador. So he’s not only outside of NASA, but outside the U.S. He should be relatively safe in telling whatever secrets he learned while an astronaut about those frequent visits by ET.

    (Dr. O’Leary’s Web site: http://www.brianoleary.info/ )

    Paul, why do you think there’s been no solid evidence produced of all these visits?

    The alien bodies supposedly in Area 51, or fragments of the supposed saucer that crashed at Roswell, would do nicely — but far less is required. Just one piece of hardware that’s indisputably of non-earthly manufacture would do. Or even a single fact that no one on the planet could have known, such as the location of a solar system that astronomers had not yet observed.

    The Great Silence drags on…

  73. reidh

    They might be trying to, but like most things they do, they won’t entirely succeed.

  74. Zetetic

    @ Paul:
    Has it ever occurred to you that it’s suspicious that former astronauts will talk about this alleged “evidence” that is being suppressed, but they are never able to give any specific examples that actually support the claim?

    I’m sorry but a relative handful (compared to the total number of people inv0lved) of people making such claims without providing any credible evidence is pretty much the definition of argument from authority.

    If you think that is unfair then please answer this simple question…..
    What credible evidence do you/they provide that positively supports that claim? Not just their say-so, but actual evidence that can be examined by others?

  75. Brig

    The Viking lander in the 1970s had one experiment that showed a definite positive for microbal life. NASA immediately squelched it saying it was only a chemical reaction. The scientist behind that experiment spent years trying to get an artifical positive for that test without success. About five or six years ago, NASA released a memorandum stating that the test was in all probability a true positive for bacterial life. The statement only made a very few papers and the ones that did carry it, gave it very little play. So, Yes, for whatever reason, NASA does not want the public to know that a life form was found on Mars. Perhaps its because they hate to admit they were wrong, Or perhaps they have some other reason; such as the Brookings Institute study which claims that finding life in outerspace or on another planet will immediately cause all earthlings to lose their minds and civilization will come crashing down.

  76. Buzz Parsec

    Damian@14 – There is a SLIGHT difference between saying something might be worth looking into and whole-heartedly endorsing something based solely on someone’s say-so. But subtle distinctions seem lost on some people.

  77. Mark Hansen

    So, Brig, what you are saying is that there was a definite positive and NASA, not wanting the public to know about it, released the confirmation to the public?

  78. Nigel Depledge

    Gia (58) said:

    I, personally, think that if NASA (or some other government agency) discovered alien life, that would be hidden from the public for as long as possible. Life outside Earth would cause a HUGE identity and religious crisis here, I have no doubt about that,

    Why?

    Why would the discovery of – say – bacteria on Europa present us with any kind of crisis?

    and any government in its right mind would be afraid of that and the possible consequences.

    And you think that individual members of the team that made the discovery wouldn’t – for instance – phone some of their colleagues before they told their bosses? Or even use wikileaks to disseminate the news?

    Come on, government cover-ups are notoriously incompetent. Even if threatened with death, some of the discovery team might still go public because that could possibly be the most important discovery ever.

  79. Nigel Depledge

    Brig (78) said:

    The Viking lander in the 1970s had one experiment that showed a definite positive for microbal life.

    Go on, then. What was the experiment, and why did the result indicate life?

    Bear in mind that Viking carried three experiments to look for life. What were the results from the other two experiments, and why does that one experiment to which you allude so vaguely carry more weight than the other two?

    NASA immediately squelched it saying it was only a chemical reaction.

    Have you looked into this? After all, life is pretty much all chemical reactions. What other chemical rections could have taken place in the Viking experiment to confuse the result? And why, in your opinion, does the result indicate life instead of simple chemistry?

    The scientist behind that experiment spent years trying to get an artifical positive for that test without success.

    Assuming you mean a false positive, there will obviously be documentation of all this work, won’t there. Perhaps you could link to some of the papers that scientist published? That would be helpful.

    About five or six years ago, NASA released a memorandum

    What does this mean? How does NASA “issue a memorandum”? Did you mean a press release? Or did someone leak a purely internal document?

    stating that the test was in all probability a true positive for bacterial life.

    So, there will obviously be a copy of this document online for you to link to, won’t there? That way, we’d all be able to see it for ourselves.

    Unless, that is, you’re either merely making stuff up, or blindly repeating stuff that someone else just made up . . .

    So, I’ve pointed out several ways in which you could support your story with, y’know, actual evidence. Why don’t you give it a go?

  80. Nigel Depledge

    The scientist behind that experiment spent years trying to get an artifical positive for that test without success.

    Even just tell us the name of this scientist…?

  81. Nigel Depledge

    Brig (78) said:

    About five or six years ago, NASA released a memorandum stating that the test was in all probability a true positive for bacterial life.

    [snip]

    So, Yes, for whatever reason, NASA does not want the public to know that a life form was found on Mars.

    Anyone else feel that this is . . . erm . . . illogical?

    Edit: Ah, I see Mark Hansen (80) beat me to it.

  82. Nigel Depledge

    Paul (73) said:

    ND–For at least the last 60 years, and some say longer, there has been testimony of astronauts, military base commanders, police officials, and credible members of the public who have had countless run-in with alien life forms and UFO’s.

    And you believe all these people why, exactly?

    Show me a single indiputably-alien toenail clipping and I’ll believe. Otherwise, I’ll reserve judgement.

    If it was a court room, the claimant would win the day.

    Based on what?

    Your question asking to see the evidence NASA has suppressed is a Catch 22: YES, we’d love to see the evidence that has been suppressed just as former NASA employees attest!

    So, since you have never seen the evidence to support these stories, how do you know that any of them are true?

    I listen to people within the agency who put their lives on the line (i.e., astronauts) to bring such information to the public

    Wait. So, these guys don’t go into space for the challenge, the adventure, the exploration or to do, y’know, science? Instead, they go into space so that the American public can receive the information that they haven’t yet received. In what universe does that make any sense?

    –a public who funds an agency who conceals the truth from its funders.

    OK, here’s a question for you:
    If you have one bunch of people saying that “X is so” and a different bunch of people saying “X ain’t so”, how do you tell whether X is true or not?

    Do you automatically believe the people who aren’t in the employ of the government?

    Why is that?

    So, my next question is: what if NASA is telling the truth (i.e. what if they really have no evidence of alien spaceships) and all those people reporting sightings of alien spaceships were honestly and genuinely mistaken?

    (You only have to browse the internet forums for a short time to see how easy it is for many, many people to be wrong about something.)

    As for Mars, is it any wonder that an agency that has lied in the past could now be lying about life on Mars?

    First, you have shown no evidence that NASA has ever lied. All you have is hearsay.

    Second, even if they did lie about one thing, that does not prove they are lying about something else (this is the logical fallacy known as Poisoning the well).

    The general public is unaware of the disaster that it NASA. It is an agency rife with corruption and getting little oversight of its out-of-control spending of taxpayer funds.

    And do you have any evidence to support your accusations of corruption?

    Do you have any evidence to support your accusation that the government oversight of NASA is inadequate or ineffectual? Surely it should be easy enough for more or less any US citizen to look up NASA’s accounts.

  83. Mark Hansen

    Nigel Depledge, it’s probably a redundant question but have you noticed that most of the conspiracy arguments go along the same lines? For example, Paul would have you believe that NASA is so incompetent that it’s a wonder that they could even launch a model rocket, and yet they’re super-competent when it comes to covering up;
    A) Alien visitation.
    B) Life on Mars.
    C) Whatever conspiracy du jour fits the bill.

    Personally, I blame Lew Grade and Peter Hyams for a lot of this. If only they had thought to put “This is not a documentary” at the start of “Capricorn One”.

  84. Nigel Depledge

    @ Mark (86) –

    Yup, without that movie, the moon-landing hoax-believers would probably not have a market for their books and DVDs.

  85. ND

    Which came first Capricorn One or moon-hoax conspiracies? I’m guessing they fed on each other.

  86. Mark Hansen

    I think the moon hoax was around before Capricorn One but when the movie came out the hoax believers must have thought all their Christmases had come at once. Especially when you consider the tagline of the movie – “Would you be shocked to find out that the greatest moment of our recent history may not have happened at all?

    P.S. A little digging around the interwebz turns up that the inspiration for Cap. One was the moon hoax idea. And as ND points out, they fed each other, to the mutual delight of Lew Grade and the HB’s.

  87. Zetetic

    Brig @ #78:
    It would appear that Nigel already stated everything I was about to say, and more, but I thought I should also add some input to this comment ….

    The scientist behind that experiment spent years trying to get an artifical positive for that test without success.

    Apparently others have had more success than your unnamed scientist.
    Evidence That the Reactivity of the Martian Soil Is Due to Superoxide Ions

    So what do we have? One test out of a few (for Viking) performed, of which all but one came up negative. Also, the one positive is not definitive, and has been able to be demonstrated to possibly produce a false positive under Martian conditions that weren’t fully appreciated back then.

    Hardly compelling.

  88. Nigel Depledge

    @ Zetetic (90) –

    Hey, that’s some radical chemistry there!

    (Sorry – bit of a chemistry-geek joke there.)

  89. Friends, do not lose time discussing whether NASA conceals that there is life on Mars.
    There is no doubt .
    Old and new photos show millions of animals living normally on mars!
    If the atmosphere is inhospitable or not, nor discusses, because it has life, NASA lied about that too.Found in photographs taken by HIRISE, impressive evidence that beings smart inhabited or inhabit the planet Mars.
    Are people high above normal on earth, and larger animals that exist here, are giants dinosaurs and birds, dinos pliossauros between millions more creatures inhabit the planet Mars.
    Write for me If there is interest in knowing coordinates.
    See some photos on the site:
    http://mil-ton.blogspot.com/ ou https://sites.google.com/site/vidaemmartecomcerteza/

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